I really, really love homemade caramel. Really. It's a good and bad thing that it's so easy to make. Good because I like it so much. Bad because I will eat the entire batch. When it comes to caramel, I find there are two groups: the chewy fans and the soft fans. I am a chewy fan.
This year, I tried a new recipe that turned out really good. Usually, I'm drawn toward recipes that use heavy cream, but this time I tried one that called for sweetened condensed milk. Caramel is surprisingly easy to make. The key is to have reliable, easy to read candy thermometer. I have a simple mercury thermometer that has candy making stages marked on it (like "soft ball" and "hard ball"). It makes it easy to know when the caramel is ready.
Combine all of the ingredients, except the vanilla, in a heavy pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until it reaches the "soft ball" stage (between 235 and 245 degrees). Cook for one minute longer, then remove from heat. The longer you cook the caramel, the chewier it will be. But, be careful not to over cook it or it will turn in to rock! Once removed from the heat, stir in vanilla. Pour mixture in to a heavily buttered 9x13 inch pan. Let it cool to room temperature before cutting it into bite sized pieces with a sharp knife. Wrap with parchment or wax paper. Enjoy!